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Sunderland v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light

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Can we do more to get front four to score?

Sunderland’s striking problems continued this week, as defeats against Plymouth and Huddersfield further compounded the lack of goals coming from our young forward line.

Bursting to score - striker still seeking a finish
| Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images


Sunderland have used all four of their newly arrived strikers so far this season, but none have yet to get off the mark.

Eighteen games in and we have had twelve different scorers but none have been an out and out front men. Jack Clarke has notched nine and then we fall to Jobe and Dan Neil who have chipped in three a piece.

The club recruited Hemir, Mason Burstow, Eliezer Mayenda, Nazariy Rusyn, and between them, they have played 35 times but all are still waiting to see the ball hit the back of the net.

For fans it is frustrating and troubling in equal measure, as I am sure it is for the players, Tony Mowbray and his backroom team. There is no doubt talent is abundant in the quartet. They have all represented their countries at relevant age groups and Burstow was emphatic about what he would do when he arrived at the AoL.

In his interview on the club website, after his signing was announced, he was asked what the fans could expect from him? “goals” he replied, adding he wanted to get the fans up off their seats.

Indeed Mowbray went public with his performance in training and he did the same with Mayenda, when he returned from the injury picked up in his first training session. Rusyn came with a decent record in the top tier of Ukrainian football and all three have showed flashes of the skills they possess.

Sunderland v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Flashes though have not converted into goals. It got to the point a few months ago where Mowbray told the media that he wondered whether our strikers were up to scoring the Championship.

In recent games Mowbray has been bemoaning the fact that we are having a significant amount of shots but the chances created are not being converted. Wednesday seems to bear that out with 27 shots with just nine on target.

So where are we going wrong?

In my view, there are a number of issues.

The first is that Mowbray seems reluctant to change the way we play. Through injury, and loan recall, we spent the vast majority of last season without a striker, although we had Amad on loan who chipped in with several vital strikes.

It led to a system where we were not looking to feed a dedicated front man rather playing with fluidity which saw all of our players in positions higher up the pitch looking to get in and around the box. This season with Clarke, Roberts, Aouchiche, Dack, Jobe and Pritchard all playing in forward roles the front man seems to be bypassed in a reliance on what seemed to work well last season. Each of our strikers have a preference as to how they want to be fed, but they seem to be on a starvation diet at present.

Sunderland vs Middlesbrough Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

That is not to say they haven’t had chances, but they have been feeding off scraps for the mostpart, and Mowbray needs to adapt the playing style to give the ball to our strikers in dangerous areas more regularly. That may include working with the strikers to adapt their play to fit a system that is rigidly in place.

What’s compounding this problem is that our rivals have done their homework on the style and how we like to move the ball. It was highlighted on and as with Wednesday, when Clarke found himself facing two or three players every time he received the ball.

Mowbray looked to change the players on the pitch with a four man substitution but the team’s efforts to break down a team that has snatched the lead and was now content to keep eleven bodies behind the ball were not enhanced. In many ways, we were negatively impacted as the final third got ever more congested, with shots having little chance of finding the net as they were looking to force their way through a sea of players.

Whether Mowbray was happy with the recruitment at the start of the season is not the issue as he is experienced enough to know he will have to play with the cards he has been dealt.

Yes, injuries have been an issue, yes, the new arrivals have to settle into the club, the team and the system, but we are 18 league games in and Mowbray would have expected that at least one of the four would have been up amongst our top scorers.

Is Mowbray agitating to get an experienced striker in next month when the window opens?

Would such a move provide the team with a Plan B, the ability to switch up play using long balls to get behind the opposing defence rather than attacking down the wings with our wide men cutting inside? The transfer window will give us a clearer indication as to whether Mowbray believes we have the capabilities in the squad.

Leicester City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Burstow clearly arrived with bags of confidence and Chelsea fans believed he was one of their youngsters who had the potential to make the first team in the years to come, but he has looked low on confidence when he has been on the pitch. Hemir, was always a work in progress but seemed to be benched very quickly having had a decent pre-season.

It might simply be that Mowbray doesn’t trust his strikers; he has publicly cast doubt on whether they are ready for this level. However in the first half on Wednesday he brought Mayenda out wide in an effort to get him on the ball.

We are not on the training ground, and we can only take Mowbray’s comments that the likes of Mayenda and Burstow are scoring with abandon behind closed doors at face value.

The question is: what is changing on the trip from AoL to the SoL?

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